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Former Pens coach Eddie Olczyk to be featured speaker

IN ACTION — Sidney Crosby, left, waits for his shift as captain Mario Lemieux gets ready to go over the boards in front of coach Eddie Olczyk during the first period of the Nov. 29, 2005, game against Buffalo in the old Mellon Arena. -- Associated Press

STEUBENVILLE — When you hear the name Eddie Olczyk, a couple of things come to mind.

One, likely, is his long career in the National Hockey League that included stints as a player and coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Another is his work as an analyst on television and radio, which also includes several years with the Penguins.

Yet another is his work as a horse racing analyst and handicapper.

What you might not realize, though, is that Olczyk is a cancer survivor.

It’s a powerful part of the book “Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” that he wrote with Perry Lefko, and a story he will share with Tri-State Area residents at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 when he appears in the Steubenville High School auditorium as part of the Herald-Star Speaker Series, Presented by Eastern Gateway Community College.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to hear Olczyk,” said Ross Gallabrese, executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. “It will be a great way for the series to resume. While sports plays a significant role in his story, his battle against colon cancer certainly will serve as an inspiration.”

A Chicago native, Olczyk had the chance to live a lifelong dream when he was chosen by his hometown Blackhawks as the third pick in 1984 draft. He also was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team and represented the United States in many international competitions.

Olczyk played with the Blackhawks, Toronto, Winnipeg, the New York Rangers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Penguins during his 16-year career. In his 1,031 games, Olczyk scored 342 goals and added 452 assists. He helped the Rangers end a 40-year championship drought as a member of the 1994 team that won the Stanley Cup.

From 1984 through 1987, Olczyk joined with Troy Murray and Curt Fraser to form Chicago’s “Clydesdale Line.” It was an appropriate description for the line, as each of the three weighed more than 200 pounds, and was bestowed by Pat Foley, the longtime Chicago broadcaster whom Olczyk has worked with and who wrote the forward to “Beating the Odds.”

After his playing days were over, Olczyk turned to broadcasting, working as analyst with the legendary Mike Lange of the Penguins.

When the head coaching job of the Penguins came open in 2003, he moved from the broadcast booth to behind the bench. Olczyk coached the Penguins to a 23-47-8 record in 2003-04, and after the 2004-05 season was canceled due to a lockout, to an 8-17-6 record in 2005 before being fired.

Olczyk had the opportunity to coach Mario Lemieux, who he had played with during his career, and Sydney Crosby in his rookie season, who arguably have been the two greatest NHL players during the past several generations.

In addition to his work on Penguins broadcasts, he has done analysis for ESPN, ESPN 2 and NHL Radio. He’s the lead analyst on NBC’s NHL coverage and remains a part of he Blackhawks broadcast team. It has recently been announced he and play-by-play announcer Kenny Albert will be the lead broadcast team on Turner Sports when national coverage of the NHL moves to Turner and ESPN next season.

A member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Olczyk has turned his lifelong passion for thoroughbred racing into a second job with the NBC Sports Group, providing analysis and handicapping of major horse races, including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

What none of that success could have protected him from, however, was the August 2017 announcement that he was suffering from colon cancer. It was a diagnosis that led Olczyk and his wife, Diana, and their children to launch a battle against the disease, one they won when he was declared cancer-free in March 2018 after undergoing surgery and treatment. Now he wants to bring as much awareness and support to those fighting cancer as he possibly can.

“When he was diagnosed with colon cancer, he chose to go public with it,” Foley writes in the forward to “Beating the Odds.” “Many would have wanted to fight that battle privately, but he felt he could help people by raising awareness — and he did. I got a colonoscopy and I know many Blackhawks employees who did the same. Did Eddie Olczyk save lives? I believe that case could be made. God bless him.”

That’s an important part of his story.

“It took amazing strength to play 16 seasons in the NHL, but it took an even greater effort to fight back against cancer,” Gallabrese said. “That’s the message Olczyk will bring to Steubenville.”

Olczyk’s presentation will be the 11th in the series, which dates back to Nov. 14, 2012, when former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin spoke. Other speakers have included Antonio and Jonna Mendez, Capt. Richard Phillips, retired Air Force Col. Mark Tillman, Rebekah Gregory, Mark Geist, Jeanine Pirro, Michael Hayden, John Quinones and Matthew Charles.

Ticket reservations will be accepted beginning Monday at the Herald-Star office, 401 Herald Square, Steubenville. The cost is $25 for a general admission ticket. Seating for this presentation will be general admission because of the possibility that COVID restrictions might be put back into place. Tickets also are available at heraldstaronline.com and weirtondailytimes.com.

A preferred ticket package is available for $50, which includes a copy of “Beating the Odds” and the opportunity to meet Olczyk after the presentation.

A VIP package is available and includes admission to a private reception that will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Froehlich’s Classic Corner; a selection of beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres; the opportunity to meet Olczyk and have a photo taken with him; a copy of the book “Beating the Odds;” transportation from Froehlich’s to the high school; and preferred seating for the presentation. The price is $150 for a couple and $85 for a single ticket.

For information about tickets and the availability of preferred and VIP packages, contact Diana Brown at the Herald-Star at (740) 283-4711.

Copies of the Olczyk’s book will be available for purchase at the Herald-Star office. Contact Brown for details. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book as well as money generated from a basket auction prior to the event will go to local cancer centers.

Area high school and junior high school students will have the opportunity to attend the presentation at no charge, courtesy of the Wheeling Nailers.

Joining the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times as sponsors for the presentation are Eastern Gateway Community College, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, WesBanco, Wheeling Hospital, Dan Stephens State Farm Insurance, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and WTRF-TV.

Special support is being provided by Em-Media, Froehlich’s Classic Corner and Steel Valley Regional Transit Authority.

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